The small town of Poplar, Wisconsin sits in the northwestern corner of the state along US-2. It is there you will find a small memorial for Richard “Dick” Ira Bong at a roadside park. Bong was born September 24, 1920 and grew up on his families farm. He attended school in Poplar and went on to collage in nearby Superior, Wisconsin. It was there he started flying lessonsi n the Civilian Pilot Training Program. In 1941 he enlisted in the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program. One of his flight instructors was Captain Barry Goldwater who later became a U.S. Senator from Arizona.
Bong was assigned to a newly formed P-38 fighter unit, the 17th Fighter Squadron. He is credited for shooting down 40 enemy aircraft surpassing Eddie Rickenbacker’s American record of 26 credited victories in World War I. Bong considered his gunnery accuracy to be poor, so he compensated by getting as close to his targets as possible to make sure he hit them. In some cases he flew through the debris of exploding enemy aircraft. He was one of the most decorated American fighter pilots and the country’s top flying ace in World War II and awarded with the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross ,Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Near the end of the war Bong became a test pilot for Lockheed and on August 6, 1945, he was killed while testing a P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter. It crashed on take off and Bong ejected but was at too low of an altitude for his parachute to deploy. He was only 24 years old when he died. He died the same day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. He is laid to rest in the cemetery outside of his hometown of Poplar, Wisconsin.
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